Focus, Human Resources, and Manufacturing

Richard Lacks Jr. steps down as company president

First nonfamily member leader has solid experience with the supplier.

December 19, 2014
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Richard Lacks Jr., president and CEO of Lacks Enterprises, announced earlier this month he would step down as president of the company Jan. 1.

Nick Hrnyak, who has 12 years of experience at Lacks and 28 years of experience in the plastics and composites industry, will replace Lacks as president.

Hrnyak first joined Lacks Enterprises, a tier-one auto supplier, in 2002. He initially served as director of sales in the Plastic Plate Division. He was promoted to general manager of the division, and later to its vice president and general manager.

Lacks credits Hrnyak with building the division from scratch.

“I’ve had a chance to watch Nick take something that had no marketplace, no products to sell, and turn it into a viable entity that has a product base. He’s built an organization,” Lacks said.

Hrnyak will be the first nonfamily member in 40 years to hold the title of president.

Lacks will continue his role as company CEO, and Hrnyak, who will take over daily operations of the company with direct oversight of the company’s business divisions, will report to him. Richard Lacks’ brother, Kurt Lacks, will continue in his role as chairman of the board.

Richard Lacks Jr. first joined the family business in 1973 after graduating from Western Michigan University. He became CEO and president in 1999 following the passing of his grandfather, John P. Lacks, and father, Richard Lacks Sr., in April and May, 1999, respectively, at the ages of 94 and 73.

In his 16 years as president and CEO, Lacks Enterprises has accomplished unprecedented growth, which Lacks said is attributable to “the character and the culture of the people that work in this organization.”

Lacks Enterprises’ successes include 200 percent increased sales revenue, 16 years of profitability and employee growth of 150 percent. Today, Lacks is the fourth-largest private employer in West Michigan.

During that time, the company added two assembly facilities, two chrome plating facilities, three molding facilities, three distribution centers, and a research and development center with a state-of-the-art laboratory.

Lacks said of all the accomplishments the company has achieved during his tenure, he is most proud of being able to remain in West Michigan and provide jobs.

“You look at the employment we have today — 2,800 people — and you look at where we’ve expanded — all of our expansions happened in the Greater Grand Rapids area. So it’s all happened in West Michigan,” he said. “I’ve never felt there is any reason for us to go anywhere else. I take great pride in the fact that all the growth that has happened has happened right here in this community.”

As he began to think about handing over the presidency, the future of the company’s employees and its commitment to the community seem to have been a No. 1 concern for Lacks.

“I’m interested in what is the long-term viability of the business and how the people in the organization are treated long term,” he said.

Lacks noted he is comfortable leaving the presidency behind and focusing on his job as CEO because he believes Hrnyak understands the company culture and will continue to take care of the day-to-day operations in a way that will help set the course for the next 50 years.

“I don’t worry one minute about it,” he said. “I expect some of the things Nick is going to do, he’s going to do better than I did.”

While the family business has its first outside leader, more than likely it will return to full family leadership down the road. Richard Lacks and Kurt Lacks each have a son, Ryan Lacks and Kurt (K.V.) Lacks, respectively, who have joined the company and are being mentored to take it over in the future.

“They are both involved intimately in the business and have been since graduation nine or 10 years ago,” Lacks said.

“Nick’s role, it’s a dual role and a difficult position. Not only does he have to run this business day in and day out, he also realizes he has to get these two guys ready so when he transitions out in 15 years, these two are ready to take over.”

Hrnyak said the whole executive team is working together to help teach Kurt Lacks and Ryan Lacks the skills they need to run the company.

“What is encouraging for folks like myself is you have the ability to develop these kids over time, but both kids are very talented and very capable,” Hrnyak said. “They are both sponges, extremely talented, and they have passion for the business. It’s very rewarding to participate in the learning and growing process for them.”

Hrnyak outlined the current state of Lacks’ three business divisions — Plastic Plate LLC, Trim Systems and Wheel Trim Systems — and his expectations for each.

“Our Lacks Trims Systems group, I would say, is the mainstay of our product category,” he said. “We have a very strong reputation in the marketplace for the products we provide and a very long history with the OEMs in Detroit in that marketplace.”

Hrnyak sees opportunities to grow the exterior trim business through new products and finishes. For the wheel division, he said innovation and unique technology would enhance the company’s position in the marketplace.

“In the marketplace where we participate, we really are creating that marketplace,” Hrnyak said. “Dick and I believe it is something that can be much more significant than it is, once our message and story gets perpetuated.

“We believe there is a lot of momentum there and we believe it will be the biggest area of growth for our organization in the next four to five years.”

Hrnyak said Lacks has been investing in that area for over a decade now. “We have very good leadership in that division and a very good product offering and story to tell,” he said.

In the Plastic Plating division, Hrnyak said the company has built a base of work and defined a presence in automotive interiors.

“Plastic Plate is just establishing a brand at the OEMs as an automotive interior provider of cosmetic finishes and finished goods,” he said. “We have some exciting technologies in our portfolio for interior and we are just getting on the map with the OEMs. We believe there is a fairly high growth potential at Plastic Plate for exposure in automotive interior.”

The company is also optimistic about its place in the appliance environment.

“The mentality of appliance, historically, has been white goods, cheap, but now there is movement in that marketplace to offer higher-end product,” he explained. “We believe we’ve been a part of that and, as it perpetuates, we’ll have greater ability to participate.”

Lacks said he is looking forward to focusing on his responsibilities as CEO, which he will do from Michigan and from his home in Florida. He joked he has been testing out enjoying more leisure time and found it suits him just fine.

“Quite frankly, I began to distance myself from the day-in and day-out role over the last two to three years, and have watched Nick and some of the other people assume these responsibilities and never miss a beat. So this is a seamless transition for me,” he said.

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